Going Deep

An artwork comprised of 4 mounted lightboxes, 88 x 64cm, 2022.

Going Deep is made from an accumulation of drawings and writing gathered in sketchbooks over 8 years of visiting Sydney’s Villawood immigration detention centre. I used to regularly visit the centre as a volunteer to conduct informal art workshops on behalf of the not-for-profit community organisation Refugee Art Project, where I would sometimes make observational sketches of the physical environment and the people who were incarcerated there. In our gatherings an Afghan friend who was locked up for over 2 years often initiated profound discussions about art, philosophy and the metaphysical poetics of Islamic mysticism. He described such conversations as ‘going deep’. This work contains some of my observational drawings, alongside 2 sketches by Tabz Jebba, and the informal handwriting of the Afghan refugee friends (who wish to remain anonymous) in our drawing circle, containing some of their favourite poetry and Sufi maxims. The work alludes to a numinous, interior world – a safe place in the mind. A respite from the grinding toll of Australia’s structural racism and institutionalised cruelty.

One theme I’ve become interested in is the concept of ‘affective experience/witnessing’ and how this can be explored, away from approaches thatprivilege causal and logical understandings. This concept evokes a different account of the theory/practice of witnessing by privileging the bodily encounter with experience, which is often pushed aside in the quest for factual narrative retellings. 

‘Going Deep’ (as the name suggests) is about exploring experiences that do not fold into a causal narrative, but which are internal, immersive, recurring, nurturing. For me the lightbox is inherently cinematic, so I hope the work resonates in a way that captures the viewer’s imagination, as film posters do for me. But also the lightbox quite literally makes art of light, which plays to the mystical, Sufi themes of the work — relating to long discussions about the metaphor of light as a form of insight, gnosis or ‘irfan.